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bowlie's picture
Patterns, sparring and aestheticism.

My view of patterns has changed vastly over the last year. I came from a boxing and BJJ background where there were no patterns, to a Taekwondo club where there were, and fankly I didnt like them. To me they seemed antiquated and useless. My reasoning for this was that they dont bear any resembelance to the sparring we did, and it was seen as a magic fix all by the community. I didnt understand why sparring and patterns are so different. When we do patterns we use the traditional stances, we use outer fore-arm blocks, we use knife hands and we have a reaction hand. When we spar we use a high guard, a different stance and different techniques. I couldnt understand the link.

I was told that patterns are for developing power, technique, movement, balance e.c.t. This didnt hold up for me because if you are developing power, you need to hit something. If you are developing the technique, it has to the the technique you will use, the movement is different because in sparring people rarely step through. In short, I wasnt getting answers that made sense when approached with a critical mind. 

Since then my appreciation of patterns has changed with my understanding. Now I see that the reason there is a disconect between patterns and sparring is because there is a difference between self defense and sport. In a sport setting you need a guard, in self defense you can grab. I realized that alot of the moves in patterns that dont surface in sparring are becasue they are not what they are said to be. I have never seen a low block in sparring, for example, because it wouldnt work. The throw it represents might, however, but the rules dont allow it. Most importantly, I now understand that the real use of patterns is not to teach us how to develop power, but to record the techniques we should be using and drill them. In short, my view has changed from thinking they are a complete waste of time to thinking they have value as a guide and syllabus, and as a way of drilling techniques, much the same way was shadow boxing. Here is the crux of this question.

You would never hear a boxer tell you shadow boxing is for power, its to drill techniques if you dont have a partner. Its to drill the techniques and get in the repititions in a low stress enviroment to re-enforce positive techniue. Same for patterns. You can drill the techniques. The problem is, the movements of shadow boxing are the same as the ones boxers use all the time. The patterns arent. You move differently, you strike differently, you hold your body differenty to how you spar. So if the movements you are drilling are different to the ones you are using, its not actually drilling. Like I said, this is partly due to the sport aspect of competition sparring and the patterns represent self defense moves. However, they have also been aestheticised for the purpous of kata competitions. Iain has talked before in podcasts about how things get added, like a low kick turned into a high kick to make it more visually impressive. Would patterns and kata not be more effective as a way of drilling a technique if they more accuraly reflected the real moves?

I quite like the idea of patterns as a way of drilling techniques when you alone, and building on for bunkai based drills in class, and in turn to build on bunkai for 'katta based sparring'. It makse sense to approach it that way. However, if there remains a disconect in the way we preform stylised patterns and how we drill bunkai drills and spar, surely that will make the method less efficient? So I guess my question is should we change the way patterns are preformed and try and 'forget' the changes that have been made to them in order to bring them back to the 'origional' form where they accuratly represent the moves we are drilling, or do you think they are close enough allready that this isnt an issue? Do you think that uniformity in the way patterns are preformed throughout clubs is more important that making them accurate and that changing them would complicate and fracture the art?

DaveB's picture
My understanding is that kata technique is the ideal. Every aspect of it serves a combative purpose. The turns, directions and repetitions of kata are emblematic of strategy as well as being coordination exercises and other holistic training. All of this is framed by the purpose of self defense. When we spar we are using movements optimal for the ruleset. We are also doing what we think is right (bouncing like Ali) and whatever habits we have formed. We are facing an opponent who has agreed to those rules and with no possibility of more adversaries arriving. We are usually playing a game with the aim of winning as opposed to trying to survive. What I understand we should be doing is trying our hardest to make our sparring technique the same as our kata technique. That is not to say we should sacrifice realism but that we find the middle ground between live adaptable and dynamic technique and the ideal, balanced, whole body powdered movements we use in kata. The best way I've found to do this is through dynamic partner drills. There isn't really an original form for kata to return to. Looking at history can only take us so far, but most arts have a lot of genuine diversity (as opposed to dilution) that comes from many generations of teachers leaving their own stamp on their arts. Personally I think that martial styles are just seed beds for our individual personal arts and so long as changes come from knowledge and development there is nothing wrong with it.